Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is a man who has always done things his own way. As a star baseball pitcher who won 224 games, struck out almost 3,000 batters, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame, his unorthodox delivery literally threw him off the mound in a violent stumble unlike any other pitcher before or since. In the last couple of weeks, Bunning’s unique style has surfaced again in his refusal to vote for a $10 billion extension of unemployment benefits. And although, like his pitching delivery, his stubborn refusal to bend on this didn’t seem effective, don’t be deceived. The senator from Kentucky is more effective than he may appear to be.
Like a nasty brushback pitch, which Bunning as a tough-as-nails ballplayer was not afraid to employ, his refusal to bend on this latest spending bill was seen as, among other things, cruel, heartless, and nonsensical or even as a display of senility (he is turning 79 this year). His “holdup” of the bill was the type of thing that the drive-by media salivate over, as do their fellow Democrats in Congress. It’s so easy in these tough economic times for the usual suspects to play the cruel, heartless, out-of-touch cards on a Republican who dares to go against the grain. It was as if Bunning, in the midst of Obama and Congressional failures, was giving them a life line.
However, the truth of the matter was that Bunning was simply calling out Congress on following their newly passed legislation, referred to as “pay-go.” Under this new law passed on February 5, the rules require lawmakers to pay for proposed spending increases in entitlement programs or for any tax cuts by offsetting them with higher taxes or reduced spending elsewhere in the budget. Simple concept really, that most sensible people follow in their personal lives. The real outrage here is not Bunning’s so-called obstinance—it’s the lame and hypocritical effort of Congress to close the barn door after trillions in debt have escaped. That “pay-go” has not always been the law of the land for all government programs, with exemptions only in time of war or other true emergency, boggles the mind.
Unfortunately, the negative media coverage once again cowed Republican leaders who should know better by now. Instead of coming to Bunning’s defense and pointing out that under “pay-go” the current bill violated the new rules, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Bunning’s fellow Kentuckian, mumbled that the bill would pass eventually and, like Leslie Nielsen’s hapless Frank Drebin in the “Naked Gun” movie, basically told the angry hordes to “move on, there’s nothing to see here.” As a result, one of those teachable moments was missed. There was indeed something big to see here, if only the Republicans stood up and presented it without the usual air of almost apologizing for being right.
In reacting the way they did, the Republicans played right into the Dems’ talking points that Bunning was a loose cannon who had no rhyme or reason to his actions. It is true that in the public relations area, Bunning does not score high because he’s a “wysiwyg”—that is, what you see is what you get, no polish or veneer included. Much was made of his “flipping off” a persistent reporter as Bunning boarded a Senators-only elevator. Granted, this was inappropriate and only fueled the speculation that this guy was simply a geezer who was losing it. However, for those tuning in to Sean Hannity’s recent interview with Bunning, they heard a perfectly lucid gentleman who knew exactly what he was doing and why. The Keith Olbermann types which flood the “mainstream” press would never give Bunning such an opportunity.
If Republicans need a lesson on how to play the budget game right, they need only look as far as New Jersey’s new Governor Chris Christie, who, like Jim Bunning, is not afraid to call a train wreck by name and then prescribe the bad-tasting medicine needed to repair it. It remains to be seen whether Christie will prevail over the real and imbedded special interests, unions in particular, that will be deeply affected by his spending axe. But the simple fact that he is showing the guts to do the right thing in the face of an enormous headwind provides inspiration for other true leaders to follow his example. Republicans would do well by showing their support for leaders like Bunning and Christie instead of running away from them.